I’m not so much a nightclub guy these days. Too loud. Too busy. Terrible drinks. The latter I can get past. Most people do. It’s a nightclub after all. But why do the drinks have to be awful? I got thinking about this after visiting one of my favourite clubs in New York, Gold Bar, a small and rather ‘bling’ venue in Little Italy with one of the toughest doors in the city. But beyond the exclusivity, Manolos and over priced hooch are some wonderful libations mixed up by a team of pros that would easily hold their own in any of the city’s finest cocktail temples.
From the owners down, they’ve created a cocktail culture within the venue that has not really spread across the city like it could. A lot of this to do with the proliferation of bottle service where a $400 bottle of Grey Goose will allow any Wall St banker and his obnoxious cronies entry. The profits are just too great for most owners to give even a passing thought to well made cocktails. And the staff don’t care. They’re already making a minimum of $500 a night. What do they care what’s in a Sidecar?
Why don’t more clubs offer drinks of this quality? Too hard? Cocktails don’t have to be time consuming or laborious. The first and main problem is getting a team of staff that really cares about making quality drinks. And of course there’s the need for in-depth and on-going training. Training a bartender to make great cocktails, at speed and consistently, is not easy. I spoke with Tim Cooper, one of the principal bartenders at Gold Bar about what it takes to make a serious cocktail program work in these crazy environs.
“You need to ‘go hard’ with discipline”, Tim told me. “No cutting corners. If you half-ass it, it will fall by the wayside. In a sense, you have to stay focused and inspire people with your passion and effort. It sounds very simple, but one of the key things that we do at Goldbar is smile and offer suggestions on cocktails. Handing someone a menu with enthusiasm will usually result in that person drinking something we’ve created. Once they see the process involved, they can’t help but feel good about what they’re drinking.”
Many operators start off seeking this same direction with their drinks program. But then the realities of nightclubs and their clientele sets in. That vision is quickly pushed aside in favour of vodka and Red Bull and alcoholic Gatorade.
“Sadly, almost all cocktail programs started in a nightclub environment become obsolete due to a few people not following through. All it takes is a couple people with a negative attitude towards the program and that attitude will spread”, continues Tim.
When thinking about developing drinks, first and foremost, make the cocktails practical and appropriate. Are people really going to drink a Sazerac at 3am when Jay Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ is dropping in? I doubt it. But they might have a delicious highball of gin, St Germain, apple juice and Champagne, served on the rocks with a slice of fresh cucumber.
Am I suggesting that every nightclub should be looking to improve their cocktail program? Of course not. Most nightclubs exist to get people trashed and most of them do a very good job at that. But there is a market for smaller, more boutique clubs and lounges to improve the quality of their drinks. Maybe that market is just me as I get older.